Biology Union of Graduate Students


Here, you will find information regarding your degree, e.g. general advice, advisors, committees, quals, teaching, and software!

General advice

Bear in mind, this is a different world from undergrad. It's a higher level of thinking, and you'll spend less time taking courses and more time learning through lab work, conferences, and talking to peers and professors.

Figure out what time of day you like to work. Some people get a lot done in the morning, others prefer working during the afternoon, and some people like to run their experiments during times when they have the whole lab to themselves. Just make sure your advisor knows if you're around during different hours, so they know that you're getting your work done.

If you're a person that is easily distracted, consider purchasing some noise-cancelling headphones. If you need to get out of the office, try studying at the Tisch library, the Ginn library, or in the graduate student lounge (campus map here).

Try to come up with a reading plan. Ask your advisor for a reading list or reading suggestions early in the year. Try to come up with a schedule, some people like to read a certain number of papers each week.

Never be scared to ask for advice or help! Your labmates and fellow graduate students were once in your position, it's better to ask a "silly" question rather than make a costly (both time and money!) mistake in your experiments.

Figure out your 2nd semester rotation early. Don't leave it off and get distracted with your first semester work; you want to be ready to start the new year strong with a new research idea and new skills to be learned. Be talking early on with other professors and thinking broadly about who asks the sort of questions you would be interested in working on.


Cultivating a good relationship with your advisor is essential. They will guide you through your many years at Tufts. Your relationship with your advisor is one of the most important factors regarding whether you will finish your PhD.

Some tips:

  • Foster a relationship that is respectful, professional, and friendly. Try to figure out your advisor's sense of humor, if possible.
  • Learn to communicate well with your advisor. You'll be with your advisor for the next five years - longer than most romantic relationships!
  • Be clear on your advisor's expectations of you, and of your expectations of him/her.
  • Some people like regular meetings with their advisor. Set this up with your advisor if you feel that this will keep you better organized and more on task.
  • Always be honest. If something is bothering you, say it (professionally, though).
  • Don't make excuses, take responsibility for your actions.
  • Work hard and be productive.

Some tips for a successful committee meeting:

  • IMPORTANT: Fill out and bring the Graduate Student Progress Form
  • Meet with your committee once per semester.
  • To arrange a meeting with your committee, try using Doodle. Send out the poll at least a month in advance
  • Keep your committee up to date about your activities. Think about designing a "report form" which you can send them every semester to update them on your progress.
  • Committee meeting styles can vary depending on the advisor so if you are unclear about something, ask a more senior grad student in the lab!
  • Bring food to your committee meetings (food makes everyone happy).

Do not be afraid to contact your committee members for help, that's what they are there for.

Qualifying Exam

Be sure to think about your qualifying exam way in advance of quals. Talk with your advisor and your committee at least a semester ahead of time to assemble a reading list and get a sense of their expectations. Read broadly and expansively, and try to incorporate both foundational theories and older papers with the newest, cutting-edge discoveries.

General Timeline for Quals (NEW as of 2017): fourth semester (spring of your second year)

Check out the Biology Department Guidelines for Graduate Students and the Written Qualifying Exam Research Proposal Guidelines for more detailed information.


Figure out what kind of teaching style suits you best. Some TAs like to be very friendly while other TAs prefer a no-nonsense attitude. It will take a few semesters before you find your balance, so don't worry. Tufts undergraduates are, for the most part, very smart, interactive, and interested in the subject material. That being said, you will always have a few sullen, unwilling participants in class.

Set boundaries for your students at the very beginning of the semester. For example: in order to avoid answering a thousand last minute emails before a big assignment is due, tell your undergraduates that you will not answer emails the day their assignment is due, because if they have questions then, they're asking them too late.

Some undergraduates are very stressed, and the occasional breakdown does occur. Try to be sympathetic, but don't promise them things you can't deliver.

If a student does something very inappropriate or has an unrealistic request (like wanting to switch labs one day so they can go to a Red Sox game) bring the situation to the lab coordinator. The lab coordinator is great because they will be the ones that say "no" and then you don't have to deal with ridiculous stuff.

Always ask older graduate students for teaching advice, because they were in your shoes once and are always willing to share their experiences.

Great undergraduates will make teaching worthwhile!

Give yourself a good amount of time to prepare for labs. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be and you'll be less nervous when you have to teach.


Refworks, Mendeley, and Zotero are free reference managers. As of 2015, you can also use Endnote for free! Go to Eaton Hall to get it installed. Tisch library offers workshops in all of these except Mendeley.

ImageJ is great for image analysis.

There is a shared grad student printer (color!) and computer in the third floor write-up area of the SEC. The computer has Adobe Creative Cloud and other expensive software. If there is somehting you need that isn't on that computer, email Mike Grossi and he will try to get it.

Make sure to back up all of your data! Talk to your advisor about getting access to the research drive.

See what statistics program you like. Some labs prefer SAS (Reed Lab), others like SPSS (Lewis Lab), or R (Crone Lab). Graphpad Prism is always a good stand-by, too. Eaton Hall has several computers with SPSS that you can use, it is also on the shared grad student computer in Dana! R is a good free program, you just need to set aside time to learn it!

R is great because it is FREE for anyone to download. R can be intimidating at first, here are a few helpful resources:

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